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Memorial Tournament Preview: No. 1, But for How Long?

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

You have to love the good, old rules of the game. Some might say we were well overdue for our annual refresher course. It seems at least once per season we are reminded just how rigid these rules can be. Whether it's Brian Davis calling a two-stroke penalty on himself or Zach Johnson forgetting to move his mark back to his original spot, these rules, for better or worse, are the backbone of the game. They are meant to keep players in line and, for the most part, they are necessary. Like them or not, you can't argue with the penalty Johnson incurred Sunday. It's pretty clear; you have to put the ball from where it lies on the green. It's one of those rules that seems harsh, but play this one out a little further and you could definitely see how moving your mark could improve your chances of making a putt. Now, is it worth two strokes? Probably not, but the severity of the penalty is meant as a figurative shot across the bow: don't you dare forget to move your mark back, or you'll certainly regret it. The mistake by Johnson could have gone down in the history books as one of the biggest blunders in golf history. Instead it's simply a footnote to yet another win on Zach Johnson's resume, and a lesson well learned.

This week:
Memorial Tournament

Last Year:
Steve Stricker shot a final-round 68 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Brandt Jobe and Matt Kuchar.

Players to Consider:

1. Rory McIlroy

There are only a handful of players I would consider after they've missed consecutive cuts, but McIlroy is one. Sure, his game doesn't look good, but you can bet that McIlroy will be extremely focused on redemption this week; and, oh yeah, his track record here isn't so bad either - two starts and two top-10s.

2. Rickie Fowler

Fowler's roll continued last week with yet another top-5 at Colonial. That's three consecutive top-5s and four consecutive top-10s. Fowler knows his way around this track as well - he finished runner-up here in 2010.

3. Luke Donald

You can bet that with McIlroy in the field this week, Donald will be ultra-focused on retaining his No. 1 World Golf Ranking. No, seriously. Donald has a strong history here and is coming off a win last week at the BMW PGA Championship in Europe. I'd say that's a good enough reason to take him this week.

4. Jim Furyk

Were it not for his strong showing last week, it would have been easier to slight Furyk this week. As it is, he's coming in with some momentum and his course history is second to only Tiger. Of course, you'll have to ignore the inexplicable missed cut last year.

5. Tiger Woods

Tiger thinks he's close, and even though we've heard that line before, he might be right. Even if he's not at the top of his game, he might be able to sneak into the top-5 this week. After all he was once automatic at Muirfield Village.

Players to Avoid:

1. Stewart Cink

Cink is among a small group of players with extremely solid track records at this event. His game, however, is still well off top form. Cink has broken 70 only three times in his last 21 rounds.

2. Kyle Stanley

Stanley began the season on fire with a win and a runner-up finish before March, but he's really struggled since that stretch. He enters this week on a string of three consecutive missed cuts.

3. Dustin Johnson

Johnson finished fourth here last year, which will put him on the radar of many people this week. But he's returning from a long lay off at the Memorial, which should always give you pause.

4. K.J. Choi

Choi is a former Memorial champion, but he's struggled to find his top form this season. His only top-10 this year came in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which has a limited field.

5. Brandt Snedeker

Snedeker just can't seem to figure out this track as evidence by his four failed attempts to make the weekend. Snedeker has played eight rounds here and has yet to break par.


This week:
Memorial Tournament

Group A

1. Luke Donald
2. Jim Furyk

As is usually the case in Group A, some good options were left on the bench this week, but Donald and Furyk appear to be the best options. Both players have solid track records here, and Donald comes in off a win while Furyk comes in off a top-5.

Group B

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Tiger Woods
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Justin Rose

The remainder of my top 5 comes from Group B this week. The lone player not in my top 5 is Justin Rose, who won here in 2010 and finished runner-up in 2008. This foursome likely will be a popular grouping this week, however, so the starting order will be extremely important. But more on that later.

Group C

1. Ben Curtis
2. Jonathan Byrd

Although neither of these players made the top 5 this week, you could certainly make a case for each. Byrd has two top-10s here in his last three tries and is on a run of three consecutive top-15s. Curtis has also played well recently and while his track record here isn't up to Byrd's level, it's still pretty decent.

Starters Round One

1. Luke Donald
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Justin Rose
4. Jonathan Byrd

Donald and Furyk enter this week off quality performances last week, but Donald appears to be playing his best while Furyk isn't quite there yet. That could change as we get farther into the week, but for starters, Donald looks like the pick Thursday. Fowler looks like an easy pick to start in Group B on Thursday. He's simply playing at a higher level than the others in Group B. McIlroy is struggling, and Woods has also had his issues the last month, so I'm going to start with Rose on Thursday. It's not exactly a bad fallback option, though, as Rose won here just two years ago. Group C was an easy call as well as Byrd comes in on a roll and has had plenty of success here the last three years.

Round Two and Going Forward

This should be an interesting week as a lot of talent is on the bench in round one. Furyk starts on the bench in Group A, and he'll have to play really well to supplant Donald. Of course, his track record here suggests that he will at some point, but I'll have to see it first. It gets really interesting in Group B, however, with Woods and McIlroy on the bench to start. I'll be watching both closely Thursday. Both Woods and McIlroy can find their way into the starting line-up Friday with a good opening round. If only one starts well, he'll likely take Rose's spot Thursday, and Fowler is locked into the starting line-up early in the week. Byrd has a slight hold on the starting spot in Group C, but that could change if Curtis starts well.

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